Miss Lulu Bett (play)

by Zona Gale

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Act II, Scene III

THE SAME. Evening, a week later. Stage flooded with moonlight, house lighted. At the piano, just inside the window, LULU and CORNISH are finishing a song together, LULU accompanying.

How sweet the happy evening's close,
'Tis the hour of sweet repose–

The summer wind has sunk to rest,
The moon serenely bright
Unfolds her calm and gentle ray,
Softly now she seems to say,

(As they sing, DI slips into the house, unseen.)

CORNISH. Why, Miss Lulu, you're quite a musician.

LULU. Oh, no. I've never played in front of anybody–(They come to the porch.) I don't know what Ina and Dwight would say if they heard me.

CORNISH. What a pretty dress that is, Miss Lulu!

LULU. I made this from one of Ina's old ones since she's been gone. I don't know what Ina and Dwight are going to say about this dress, made like this, when they get home.

CORNISH. When are they coming back?

LULU. Any time now. They've been gone most a week. Do you know I never had but one compliment before that wasn't for my cooking.

CORNISH. You haven t!

LULU. He told me I done up my hair nice. That was after I took notice how the ladies in Savannah, Georgia, done up theirs.

CORNISH. I guess you can do most anything you set your hand to, Miss Lulu: Look after Miss Di and sing and play and cook–

LULU. Yes, cook. But I can't earn anything. I'd like to earn something.

CORNISH. You would! Why, you have it fine here, I thought.

LULU. Oh, fine, yes. Dwight gives me what I have. And I do their work.

CORNISH. I see. I never thought of that.... (Pause.)

LULU. You're wondering why I didn't stay with him!

CORNISH. Oh, no.

LULU. Yes you are! The whole town's wondering. They're all talking about me.

CORNISH. Well, Miss Lulu, you know it don't make any difference to your friends what people say.

LULU. But they don't know the truth. You see, he had another wife.

CORNISH. Lord sakes!

LULU. Dwight thinks it isn't true. He thinks–he didn't have another wife.... You see, Dwight thinks he didn't want me.

CORNISH. But–your husband–I mean, why doesn't he write to Mr. Deacon and tell him the truth–

LULU. He has written. The letter's in there on the piano.

CORNISH. What'd he say?

LULU. Dwight doesn't like me to touch his mail. I'll have to wait till he comes back.

CORNISH. Lord sakes!...You–you–you're too nice a girl to get a deal like this. Darned if you aren't.

LULU. Oh, no.

CORNISH. Yes you are, tool And there ain't a thing I can do.

LULU. It's a good deal to have somebody to talk to....

CORNISH. Sure it is.

LULU.... Cora Waters. Cora Waters, of San Diego, California. And she never heard of me.

CORNISH. No. She never did, did she? Ain't life the darn–

(Enter MRS. BETT.)

MRS. BETT. I got Monona into bed. And it's no fool of a job neither.

LULU. Did you, mother? Come and sit down.

MRS. BETT. Yes. She went to bed with a full set of doll dishes.... Ain't it nice with the folks all gone?...I don't hear any more playin' and singin'. It sounded real good.

LULU. We sung all I knew how to play, mama.

MRS. BETT. I use' to play on the melodeon.

CORNISH. Well, well, well.

MRS. BETT. That was when I was first married. We had a little log house in a clearing in York State. I was seventeen–and he was nineteen. While he was chopping I use' to sit on a log with my sewing. Jenny was born in that house. I was alone at the time. I was alone with her when she died, too. She was sixteen–little bits of hands she had–(Yawns. Rises, wanders toward door.) Can't we have some more playin' and singin'?

LULU. After a little while, mama–dear.

MRS. BETT. It went kind of nice–that last tune you sung. (Hums the air. Enters house.)

CORNISH. I must be going along too, Miss Lulu.

LULU. I can't think why Di doesn't come. She ought not to be out like this without telling me.

(MRS. BETT appears beside the piano, lifts and examines the letters lying there.)

CORNISH. Well, don't you mind on my account. I've enjoyed every minute I've been here.

LULU. Mother! Those are Dwight's letters–don't you touch them.

MRS. BETT. I ain't hurting them or him either. (Disappears, the letters in her hand.)

CORNISH. Good-night, Miss Lulu. If there was anything I could do at any time you'd let me know, wouldn't you?

LULU. Oh, thank you.

CORNISH. I've had an awful nice time, singing, and listening to you talk–well of course–I mean the supper was just fine! And so was the music.

LULU. Oh, no.

(MRS. BETT appears at the door with a letter.)

MRS. BETT. Lulie. I guess you didn't notice. This one's from Ninian.

LULU. Mother–

MRS. BETT. I opened it–why of course I did. It's from Ninian. (Holds out unfolded letters and an old newspaper clipping.) The paper's awful old–years back, looks like. See. Says "Corie Waters, music hall singer–married last night to Ninian Deacon"–Say, Lulie, that must be her.

LULU. Yes, that's her. That's her–Cora Waters.... Oh, then he was married to her just like he said!

CORNISH. Oh, Miss Lulu! I'm so sorry!

LULU. No, no. Because he wanted me! He didn't say that just to get rid of me!

CORNISH. Oh, that way.... I see....

LULU. I'm so thankful it wasn't that.

MRS. BETT. Then everything's all right onct more. Ain't that nice!

LULU. I'm so thankful it wasn't that.

CORNISH. Yes, I can understand that. Well, I–I guess I ought to be going now, Miss Lulu.... Why, it is Miss Lulu Bett, isn't it?

LULU (abstractedly, with the paper). Yes–yes–good-night, Mr. Cornish. Good-night.

CORNISH. Good-night, Miss Lulu.... I wonder if you would let me tell you something.

LULU. Why–

CORNISH. I guess I don't amount to much. I'll never be a lawyer. I'm no good at business and everything I say sounds wrong to me. And yet I do believe I do know enough not to bully a woman–not to make her unhappy, maybe even–I could make her a little happy. Miss Lulu, I hate to see you looking and talking so sad. Do you think we could possibly arrange–


CORNISH. I guess maybe you've heard something about a little something I'm supposed to inherit. Well, I got it. Of course, it's only five hundred dollars. We could get that little Warden house and furnish up the parlor with pianos–that is, if you could ever think of marrying me.

LULU. Don't say that–don't say that!

MRS. BETT. Better take him, Lulie. A girl ought to take any young man that will propose in front of her mother!

CORNISH. Of course if you loved him very much then I'd ought not to be talking this way to you.

LULU. You see Ninian was the first person who was ever kind to me. Nobody ever wanted me, nobody ever even thought of me. Then he came. It might have been somebody else. It might have been you. But it happened to be Ninian and I do love him.

CORNISH. I see. I guess you'll forgive me for what I said.

LULU. Of course.

CORNISH. Miss Lulu, if that five hundred could be of any use to you, I wish you'd take it.

LULU. Oh, thank you, thank you, I couldn't.

CORNISH. Well, I guess I'll be stepping along. If you should want me, I'm always there. I guess you know that. (Exit.)

MRS. BETT. Better burn that up. I wouldn't have it round.

LULU. But mother! Mother dear, try to understand. This means that Ninian told the truth. He wasn't just trying to get rid of me.

MRS. BETT. Did he want you to stay with him?

LULU. I don't know. But I think he did. Anyway, now I know the truth about him.

MRS. BETT. Well, I wouldn't want anybody else to know. Here, let me have it and burn it up.

LULU. Mama, mama! Aren't you glad for me that now I can prove Ninian wasn't just making up a story so I'd go away?

MRS. BETT (clearly and beautifully). Oh, Lulu! My little girl! Is that what they said about you? Mother knows it wasn't like that. Mother knows he loved you.... How still it is here! Where's Inie?

LULU. They've gone away, you know....

MRS. BETT. Well, I guess I'll step over to Grandma Gates's a spell. See how her rheumatism is. I'll be back before long–I'll be back.... (Exit. For a moment LULU breaks down and sobs. Rises to lay DWIGHT'S letter through the window on piano. Slight sound. She listens. Enter DI from house. She is carrying a traveling bag.)

LULU. Di! Why Di! What does this mean? Where were you going? Why, mama won't like your carrying her nice new satchel....

DI. Aunt Lulu–the idea. What right have you to interfere with me like this?

LULU. Di, you must explain to me what this means.... Di, where can you be going with a satchel this time of the night? Di Deacon, are you running away with somebody?

DI. You have no right to ask me questions, Aunt Lulu.

LULU. Di, you're going off with Bobby Larkin. Aren't you? Aren't you?

DI. If I am it's entirely our own affair.

LULU. Why, Di. If you and Bobby want to be married why not let us get you up a nice wedding here at home–

DI. Aunt Lulu, you're a funny person to be telling me what to do.

LULU. I love you just as much as if I was married happy, in a home.

DI. Well, you aren't. And I'm going to do just as I think best. Bobby and I are the ones most concerned in this, Aunt Lulu.

LULU. But–but getting married is for your whole life!

DI. Yours wasn't.

LULU. Di, my dear little girl, you must wait at least till mama and papa get home.

DI. That's likely. They say I'm not to be married till I'm twenty-one.

LULU. Well, but how young that is.

DI. It is to you. It isn't young to me, remember, Aunt Lulu.

LULU. But this is wrong–it is wrong!

DI. There's nothing wrong about getting married if you stay married.

LULU. Well, then it can't be wrong to let your mother and father know.

DI. It isn't. But they'd treat me wrong. Mama'd cry and say I was disgracing her. And papa–first he'd scold me and then he'd joke me about it. He'd joke me about it every day for weeks, every morning at breakfast, every night here on the porch–he'd joke me.

LULU. Why, Di! Do you feel that way, too?

DI. You don't know what it is to be laughed at or paid no attention to, everything you say.

LULU. Don't I? Don't I? Is that why you're going?

DI. Well, it's one reason.

LULU. But Di, do you love Bobby Larkin?

DI. Well.... I could love almost anybody real nice that was nice to me.

LULU. Di... Di....

DI. It's true. (BOBBY enters.) You ought to know that.... You did it. Mama said so.

LULU. Don't you think that I don't know....

DI. Oh, Bobby, she's trying to stop us! But she can't do it–I've told her so–

BOBBY. She don't have to stop us. We're stopped.

DI. What do you mean?

BOBBY. We're minors.

DI. Well, gracious–you didn't have to tell them that.

BOBBY. No. They knew I was.

DI. But, silly. Why didn't you tell them you're not.

BOBBY. But I am.

DI. For pity sakes–don't you know how to do anything?

BOBBY. What would you have me do, I'd like to know?

DI. Why tell them we're both–whatever it is they want us to be. We look it. We know we're responsible–that's all they care for. Well, you are a funny....

BOBBY. You wanted me to lie?

DI. Oh! don't make out you never told a fib.

BOBBY. Well, but this–why, Di–about a thing like this....

DI. I never heard of a lover flatting out like that!

BOBBY. Anyhow, there's nothing to do now. The cat's out. I've told our ages. We've got–to have our folks in on it.

DI. Is that all you can think of?

BOBBY. What else is there to think of?

DI. Why, let's go to Bainbridge or Holt and tell them we're of age and be married there.

LULU. Di, wherever you go I'll go with you. I won't let you out of my sight.

DI. Bobby, why don't you answer her?

BOBBY. But I'm not going to Bainbridge or Holt or any town and lie, to get you or any other girl.

DI. You're about as much like a man in a story as–as papa is.

(Enter DWIGHT and INA.)

DWIGHT. What's this? What's this about papa?

INA. Well, what's all this going on here?

LULU. Why, Ina!

DI. Oh, mama! I–I didn't know you were coming so soon. Hello, dear! Hello, papa! Here's–here's Bobby....

DWIGHT. What an unexpected pleasure, Master Bobby.

BOBBY. Good-evening, Mrs. Deacon. Good evening, Mr. Deacon.

DWIGHT. And Lulu. Is it Lulu? Is this lovely houri our Lulu? Is this Miss Lulu Bett? Or is this Lulu something else by now? You can't tell what Lulu'll do when you leave her alone at home. Ina–our festive ball gown!

LULU. Ina, I made it out of that old muslin of yours, you know. I thought you wouldn't care–

INA. Oh, that! I was going to use it for Di but it doesn't matter. You are welcome to it, Lulu. Little youthful for anything but home wear, isn't it?

DWIGHT. It looks like a wedding gown. Why are you wearing a wedding gown–eh, Lulu?

INA. Di Deacon, what have you got mama's new bag for?

DI. I haven't done anything to the bag, mama.

INA. Well, but what are you doing with it here?

DI. Oh, nothing! Did you–did you have a good time?

INA. Yes, we did–but I can't see... Dwight, look at Di with my new black satchel.

DWIGHT. What is this, Diana?

DI. Well, I'm–I'm not going to use it for anything.

INA. I wish somebody would explain what is going on here. Lulu, can't you explain?

DWIGHT. Aha! Now, if Lulu is going to explain that's something like it. When Lulu begins to explain we get imagination going.

LULU. Di and I have a little secret. Can't we have a little secret if we want one?

DWIGHT. Upon my word, she has a beautiful secret. I don't know about your secrets, Lulu.

(Enter MRS. BETT.)

MRS. BETT. Hello, Inie.

INA. Oh, mother dear....

DWIGHT. Well, Mother Bett....

MRS. BETT. That you, Dwight? ( To BOBBY.)... Don't you help me. I guess I can help myself yet awhile. (Climbs the two steps.) (To DI.) Made up your mind to come home; did you? (Scats herself.) I got a joke. Grandma Gates says it's all over town they wouldn't give Di and Bobby Larkin a license to get married. (Single note of laughter, thin and high.)

DWIGHT. What nonsense!

INA. Is it nonsense? Haven't I been trying to find out where the new black bag went? Di! Look at mama....

DI. Listen to that, Bobby. Listen!

INA. That won't do, Di. You can't deceive mama, and don't you try.

BOBBY. Mrs. Deacon, I–

DWIGHT. Diana!

DI. Yes, papa.

DWIGHT. Answer your mother. Answer me. Is there anything in this absurd tale?

DI. No, papa.

DWIGHT. Nothing whatever?

DI. No, papa.

DWIGHT. Can you imagine how such a ridiculous story started?

DI. No, papa.

DWIGHT. Very well. Now we know where we are. If anybody hears this report repeated, send them to me.

INA. Well, but that satchel–

DWIGHT. One moment. Lulu will of course verify what the child has said.

LULU. If you cannot settle this with Di, you cannot settle it with me.

DWIGHT. A shifty answer. You're a bird at misrepresenting facts....

LULU. Oh!...

DWIGHT. Lulu, the bird!

LULU. Lulu, the dove to put up with you. (Exit.)

INA. Bobby wanted to say something....

BOBBY. No, Mrs. Deacon. I have nothing–more to say. I'll–I'll go now.

DWIGHT. Good-night, Robert.

(INA and DWIGHT transfer bags and wraps to the house.)

BOBBY. Good-night, Mr. Deacon. Good-by, Di.

(DI follows BOBBY. Right.)

DI. Bobby, come back, you hate a lie–but what else could I do?

BOBBY. What else could you do? I'd rather they never let us see each other again than to lose in the way I've lost you now.

DI. Bobby!

BOBBY. It's true. We mustn't talk about it.

DI. Bobby! I'll go back and tell them all.

BOBBY. You can't go back. Not out of a thing like that. Good-by, Di. (Exit.)

(Enter DWIGHT and INA.)

DI. If you have any fear that I may elope with Bobby Larkin, let it rest. I shall never marry him if he asks me fifty times a day.

INA. Really, darling?

DI. Really and truly, and he knows it, too.

DWIGHT. A-ha! The lovelorn maiden all forlorn makes up her mind not to be so lorn as she thought she was. How does it seem not to be in love with him, Di–eh?

DI. Papa, if you make fun of me any more I'll–I'll let the first train of cars I can find run over me.... (Sobs as she runs to house.)

MRS. BETT. Wait, darling! Tell grandma! Did Bobby have another wife too?

(Exeunt MRS. BETT and DI.)

INA. Di, I'd be ashamed, when papa's so good to you. Oh, my! what parents have to put up with....

DWIGHT. Bear and forbear, pettie–bear and forbear.... By the way, Lulu, haven't I some mail somewhere about?

LULU. Yes, there's a letter there. I'll get it for you. (She reaches through the window.)

DWIGHT. A-ha! An epistle from my dear brother Ninian.

INA. Oh, from Ninian, Dwight?

DWIGHT. From Ninian–the husband of Miss Lulu Bett.... You opened the letter?...Your sister has been opening my mail.

INA. But, Dwight, if it's from Ninian–

DWIGHT. It is my mail.

INA. Well, what does he say?

DWIGHT. I shall read the letter in my own time. My present concern is this disregard for my wishes. What excuse have you to offer?

LULU. None.

INA. Dwight, she knows what's in it and we don't. Hurry up.

DWIGHT. She is an ungrateful woman. (Opens the letter, with the clipping.)

INA (over his shoulder). Ah!...Dwight, then he was...

DWIGHT. M–m–m–m. So after having been absent with my brother for a month you find that you were not married to him.

LULU. You see, Dwight, he told the truth. He did have another wife. He didn't just leave me.

DWIGHT. But this seems to me to make you considerably worse off than if he had.

LULU. Oh, no! No! If he hadn't–hadn't liked me, he wouldn't have told me about her. You see that, don't you?

DWIGHT. That your apology?...Look here, Lulu! This is a bad business. The less you say about it the better for all our sakes. You see that, don't you?

LULU. See that? Why, no. I wanted you to write to him so I could tell the truth. You said I mustn't tell the truth till I had the proofs.

DWIGHT. Tell whom?

LULU. Tell everybody. I want them to know.

DWIGHT. Then you care nothing for our feelings in this matter?

LULU. Your feelings?

DWIGHT. How this will reflect on us–it's nothing to you that we have a brother who's a bigamist?

LULU. But it's me–it's me.

DWIGHT. You! You're completely out of it. You've nothing more to say about it whatever. Just let it be as it is...drop it. That's all I suggest.

LULU. I want people to know the truth.

DWIGHT. But it's nobody's business but our business...for all our sakes let us drop this matter.... Now I tell you, Lulu–here are three of us. Our interests are the same in this thing–only Ninian is our relative and he's nothing to you now. Is he?

LULU. Why–

DWIGHT. Let's have a vote. Your snap judgment is to tell this disgraceful fact broadcast. Mine is, least said soonest mended. What do you say, Ina?

INA. Oh, goodness–if we get mixed up in a scandal like this we'll never get away from it. Why, I wouldn't have people know of it for worlds.

DWIGHT. Exactly. Ina has stated it exactly. Lulu, I think you should be reconciled.

INA. My poor, poor sister! Oh, Dwight! when I think of it–what have I done, what have I've done–that I should have a good kind loving husband–be so protected, so loved, when other women... Darling! You know how sorry I am–we all are–

LULU. Then give me the only thing I've got–that's my pride. My pride that he didn't want to get rid of me.

DWIGHT. What about my pride? Do you think I want everybody to know that my brother did a thing like that?

LULU. You can't help that.

DWIGHT. But I want you to help it. I want you to promise me that you won't shame us like this before all our friends.

LULU. You want me to promise what?

DWIGHT. I want you–I ask you to promise me that you will keep this with us–a family secret.

LULU. No! No! I won't do it! I won't do it! I won't do it!

DWIGHT. You refuse to do this small thing for us?

LULU. Can't you understand anything? I've lived here all my life–on your money. I've not been strong enough to work they say–well, but I've been strong enough to be a hired girl in your house–and I've been glad to pay for my keep.... But there wasn't a thing about it that I liked. Nothing about being here that I liked.... Well, then I got a little something, same as other folks. I thought I was married and I went off on the train and he bought me things and I saw different towns. And then it was all a mistake. I didn't have any of it. I came back here and went into your kitchen again–I don't know why I came back. I suppose it's because I'm most thirty-four and new things ain't so easy any more–but what have I got or what'll I ever have? And now you want to put on to me having folks look at me and think he run off and left me and having them all wonder. I can't stand it. I can't stand it. I can't....

DWIGHT. You'd rather they'd know he fooled you when he had another wife?

LULU. Yes. Because he wanted me. How do I know–maybe he wanted me only just because he was lonesome, the way I was. I don't care why. And I won't have folks think he went and left me.

DWIGHT. That is wicked vanity.

LULU. That's the truth. Well, why can't they know the truth?

DWIGHT. And bring disgrace on us all?

LULU. It's me–It's me–

DWIGHT. You–you–you–you're always thinking of yourself.

LULU. Who else thinks of me? And who do you think of–who do you think of Dwight? I'll tell you that, because I know you better than any one else in the world knows you–better even than Ina. And I know that you'd sacrifice Ina, Di, mother, Monona, Ninian–everybody, just to your own idea of who you are. You're one of the men who can smother a whole family and not even know you're doing it.

DWIGHT. You listen to me. It's Ninian I'm thinking about.

LULU. Ninian....

DWIGHT. Yes, yes...Ninian!...Of course if you don't care what happens to him, it doesn't matter.

LULU. What do you mean?

DWIGHT. If you don't love him any more....

LULU. You know I love him. I'll always love him.

DWIGHT. That's likely. A woman doesn't send the man she loves to prison.

LULU. I send him to prison! Why, he's brought me the only happiness I've ever had....

DWIGHT. But prison is just where he'll go and you'll be the one to send him there.

LULU. Oh! That couldn't be.... That couldn't be....

DWIGHT. Don't you realize that bigamy is a crime? If you tell this thing he'll go to prison...nothing can save him.

LULU. I never thought of that....

DWIGHT. It's time you did think. Now will you promise to keep this with us, a family secret?

LULU. Yes. I promise.

DWIGHT. You will?...

LULU. Yes... I will.

DWIGHT. A...h. You'll be happy some day to think you've done this for us, Lulu.

LULU. I s'pose so....

INA. This makes up for everything. My sweet self-sacrificing sister!

LULU. Oh, stop that!

INA. Oh, the pity of it... the pity of it!...

LULU. Don't you go around pitying me! I'll have you know I'm glad the whole thing happened.


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